Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Joel Marks, an atheist who is also a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven, admits that "atheism implies amorality"

Joel Marks wrote recently on Philosophy Now (H/T: Uncommon Descent):
"...let me assure you that I do not intend this as a joke. [...] I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality. [...] I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality."
Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart commented on Marks' conversion:
"For myself, I am not entirely sure how to react to it. The more uncharitable side of my nature wants simply to remark that a conversion to the blindingly obvious does not really constitute one of the more momentous events in intellectual history (even if it does constitute an important psychological episode in the life of Joel Marks).

Of course
if there is no God, then there can be neither moral right nor moral wrong in any objectively real sense. The “Good as such”—the source and end of moral truth, the highest object of the rational will, which has the power to unite the longing for truth with the imperative to act in this way or that—is found nowhere within nature. Not even those who believe in “natural law” imagine that it is. [...]

The real question of the moral life, at least as far as philosophical “warrant” is at issue, is not whether one personally needs God in order to be good, but whether one needs God in order for the good to be good. [...]

[I]t seems to me hardly debatable that no purely naturalistic approach to ethics has ever succeeded in producing anything resembling a compelling or attractive moral imperative.

Choose whichever you like—standard utilitarianism, Rawls’s theory of justice, attempts to ground moral thinking in evolutionary biology or neurophysiology—you will always find, if you subject your preferred ethical naturalism to sufficiently unflinching scrutiny, that at some primal and irreducible point it must simply presume a movement of good will, an initial moral impulse that, with a kind of ghostly Gödelian elusiveness, can never be contained within the moral system it sustains. All the polyphony of nature falls mute when asked to produce one substantial imperative, unless one believes (explicitly or tacitly) that the voice of nature has its origin and consummation in the voice of God.

I am not convinced, I should add, that Marks has really succeeded in becoming quite the consistent amoralist that he thinks is. Call it what he will, I still cannot regard his devotion to personal probity or his “preference” for compassion or his desire to persuade others as anything other than a morality. There are preferences and there are preferences, desires and desires, and they differ from one another in quality according to their objects and their intensity. Certainly a desire to convince someone not to be cruel to animals is not a desire simply to communicate an aesthetic inclination.

This past year, I became quite attached to the string quartets of Vagn Holmboe, and I’m quite eager to share that enthusiasm with other music lovers; but I know that that is not at all comparable to my desire that others should agree with me regarding the evil of child-molestation. And I do not think Marks’s desire to persuade others to hate vivisection (his example) has the quality—the simple existential quality—of mere personal desire." (Italics original, bold added)

No comments: